This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Eco-minded media duo spreads green message in Chicago and beyond

If you’ve taken a cab ride somewhere in Chicago in the last week or so, you probably had a peek at one of the latest green projects by a husband-wife team that’s cutting a swath in the green lifestyles and business sector in Chicago and elsewhere.

Video screens mounted in the backseat of more than 1,000 cabs throughout Chicago are now showing a rotating series of super-short videos that feature local businesses engaged in green services or products. The Chicago Green Loop series was developed and produced by Bianca and Michael Alexander, co-CEOs of Conscious Planet Media, a media company they formed six years ago in California. The goal of the series is to showcase Chicago green businesses for tourists and locals alike. They set up a similar program recently in New York and Boston and plans are in the works for San Francisco this summer.

Michael and Bianca Alexander (photo credit Scott Council)

The Alexanders moved their own green business to Chicago from California about two years ago with the expectation of opening a green production studio in the still-pending Green Exchange on the city’s North Side. That project has been delayed and the studio space has now been reallocated for other uses, but the Alexanders say they still plan on becoming tenants when the building opens.

In the meantime, they have been busy establishing themselves in the local green lifestyle, fashion and business scene.

Bianca, 39, and Michael, 38, started the company using an Internet-based multimedia format where they began producing and hosting video segments on eco-destinations, green lifestyle issues and more. Their program, Conscious Living TV, currently is watched by about 1.5 million viewers per month on their own site, through many other websites around the world that carry their content and on other platforms as well, according to Michael.

While they collaborate as a team on ideas for their visual stories, Bianca is typically the one in front of the camera, and Michael handles the technology component behind the scenes. Before venturing into green media production, Bianca was an attorney for Paramount Studios in L.A. Michael was engaged in several California green-product businesses.

More recently, they have been producing monthly live “Conscious Living” segments on network news stations including ABC, NBC and WGN. They won an award from the Assn. for Health Care Journalists for a story on Chicago’s Food Deserts and an Emmy for their work on “Soul of Green,” a series they created about sustainability issues affecting people of color. That series currently is airing on Fox/My50 Chicago.

The duo also has been producing the Vert Couture fair-trade eco-fashion show, a green lifestyle event that recently has been part of Chicago Fashion Week. Next month, the Alexanders will moderate a panel, “The Conscious Media Revolution,” at Green Festival at McCormick Place on May 14.

Crain’s checked in with the couple to find out what’s next.

Crain’s: Where did you get the idea to start a green lifestyles media company?

Michael: We wanted to start a company that looked at how we could be more conscious about what we do and buy. We started producing news segments on ABC and NBC affiliates across the country on topics such as how to shop for organic food, things you don’t know about cleaning products and how we could live more green. I’m a classically trained economist, and I know this is about driving demand. If we drive demand for more green products, we can change how companies impact the environment. That was our big idea.

Bianca: The whole concept for Conscious Planet Media was written on the back of the napkin on a plane to our honeymoon in Bali. It took a couple of years to percolate, and then we left L.A. We went to Sedona (Ariz.) and looked within to be the change. That’s where we found the clarity about what we should be doing, and that’s how we founded our company.

With this company, we’re re-setting the buying criteria for how we identify ourselves as individuals. What is the definition of success, health, beauty and living a great life? As individuals, we can vote with our spending dollars and create the world we want to see.

Crain’s: Why did you decide to produce your green lifestyles segments and release them mainly through the Internet?

Michael: Media is the Wild West now. We launched our first multiplatform show six years ago, after YouTube was founded. We wouldn’t have been able to do this 10 years ago.

We had a way to get our message out to millions of people. Over the last five years, we’ve developed a vast international distribution network where we can get the viewership of a cable channel or a network without having to kowtow to corporate media interests. Our content is on thousands of websites around the world. And it’s allowed us to maintain the integrity with the types of messages and stories we want to tell.

Crain’s: You launched Soul of Green after arriving in Chicago to address the lack of coverage of people of color in this movement. Has that taken off yet?

Bianca: These are stories that aren’t being told. There’s a certain vernacular and cultural translation that’s missing in the mainstream green movement. When you think green, you don’t think of a black person at all, or even a Latino person or an Asian person. You usually think of a wealthy white male. Our platform is being able to translate it to the everyday person to not make them feel like we’re looking down on them. We’re not telling them you have to drive a Prius or wear eco-fashion. You can live your life exactly where you are.

Last year we were approached by Next TV, which is produced by the Chicago Urban League. We produced Soul of Green segments for that program and last year I won an Emmy for that work.

Crain’s: Tell us more about your newest platform — the Chicago Green Loop series running in Chicago cabs.

Bianca: By the summer we should have 1,500 cabs showing our series on their TV screens. Soon we expect to have hotels in Chicago showing the series, as well, in their rooms.

When tourists or locals see these short segments, they might get inspired to take a step in the green direction. If you’re going to go out to eat, why not try a vegetarian restaurant like Karyn’s. If you’re going to go shopping around Division Street, why not go to GreenHeart for fair trade and funky, tribal fashions. If you’re thinking about hotels, you can learn about the green things at the Fairmont Hotel. These are stories that show you don’t have to give up the good life to live more sustainably.

Michael: The cab companies aren’t paying for our content. They’ll have ads that run alongside the show, which is being distributed by Creative Mobile Technologies. We create and own the platform, but we split the ad revenues with the cabs. We fill the creative need, then the money follows.

Crain’s: Is the Chicago market ready for this kind of programming or are you ahead of the curve?

Michael: I always feel like we’re years ahead of the curve. I think people want sexy, and they want a great experience. Our purpose is to show them they can have all they want and they can do it with better choices that make them feel better about themselves.

Bianca: At first, it was a bit of culture shock moving to Chicago from California. But people soaked up our green information here like sponges; everyone’s so jaded in California. There’s a willingness to learn here and people are more progressive about green issues than I thought they were. The mainstream media isn’t giving them this information, but we are. We feel like we’re filling a vacuum.

Crain’s: What’s next in your plans to grow the company?

Bianca/Michael: We’re in the process of doubling distribution for the Chicago Green Loop series. We’ll be hosting the next Vert Couture fashion show in Chicago Fashion Week in the fall. And we’re developing a series about sustainable businesses called the Triple Bottom Line.

We spent the last six years perfecting the way we tell stories and creating a distribution network. Now we’re ramping up our advertising and marketing so we can continue to monetize. This has been largely self-funded so far. We’re looking for advertisers that are like-minded and understand the value of getting their message out along with powerful conscious green content.

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